ABC takes alpha role in 4th qtr.

Net ready for competish with 'Housewives,' 'Lost,' NFL

It’s still early, with most new shows having aired twice, but here are some ratings observations on the 2005-06 season:

  • ABC is the net to beat in the fourth quarter, poised to consistently win on Sunday with its “Desperate Housewives”-powered lineup, on Wednesday with “Lost” and on Monday with its final season of “Monday Night Football.”

If Wednesday’s “Invasion” and Tuesday’s “Commander in Chief” continue to perform at solid levels, the Alphabet should take its lead in the industry’s closely watched adults 18-49 demo into 2006.

  • Even though there’s no dominant program, the toughest slot on the sked is Tuesday at 9, where returning faves “House” on Fox and “Amazing Race” on CBS are joined by hot NBC laffer “My Name Is Earl,” ABC drama “Commander in Chief” and the WB thriller “Supernatural.”

The Peacock and Alphabet aren’t doing their entries much of a favor with their skedding, though: “Commander,” an upscale, older-skewing drama, follows blue-collar comedy “According to Jim”; and “Earl” is getting little support from either its lead-in, weight-loss unscripted series “Biggest Loser,” or its lead-out laffer, the hilarious but still ratings-challenged “The Office.”

  • The WB would like to broaden its audience, but one of its early attempts, Monday drama “Just Legal,” performed meekly in its first two tries — proving how difficult it can be to change a network’s brand.

Virtually without exception, the net of “Dawson’s Creek” and “Gilmore Girls” has used the female teen demo as a barometer of its success. If a Frog show has support here, it can become a hit.

Don Johnson-fronted “Legal,” which feels more like a CBS show, has averaged a 2 share among female teens while struggling overall. On the other hand, the new “Supernatural” opened with an 8 share but quickly rose to a 13, likely on good word-of-mouth.

  • “Just Legal” is among several new shows that may not see November. Fox has already canceled “Head Cases” after two weak airings, and UPN must already have its finger on the “eject” button for “Sex, Love and Secrets” after the sudser preemed to a 1 share in 18-49.

Fox will soon make a decision regarding Monday laffer “Kitchen Confidential,” which last week lost 2 shares from its soft “Arrested Development” lead-in. And CBS could be getting an itchy trigger finger on the same night with “Out of Practice,” which fell 3 shares from “Two and a Half Men.”

  • Was it too much Martha? Too much “Apprentice”? Or both. The Martha Stewart-hosted version of NBC’s “The Apprentice” opened with a ratings thud, and fell to a fifth-place finish in its second week.

The original Donald Trump version is troubled too, with its premiere-week 4.6 rating repping a 42% decline from last fall’s 8.0.

But this is only part of NBC’s problem on Thursday, where 8 o’clock anchor “Joey” fell behind UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris” in premiere week, and 10 o’clock vet “ER” declined 35% year-to-year.

If “My Name Is Earl” continues to shine, the net should ship it to Thursday.

  • UPN accomplished its goals on several fronts with the strong preem of “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Show, which drew 7.8 million viewers and beat NBC’s “Joey” among young adults, was a big hit in Gotham, where the net focused much of its marketing muscle. “Chris” did a 6.3 rating in New York among 18-49ers, nearly double its national average (3.2).

Net also got a broader audience for the comedy created by Chris Rock. Roughly 53% of the show’s opening-night aud was African-American, compared with 84% for the net’s highest-rated Monday comedy, “Girlfriends.”

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